Designing Country Strategies

Designing Country Strategies Tailored solutions for Bangladesh and other countries

The challenges involved in improving working conditions vary greatly by country, and achieving lasting change requires us to shape our approach based on unique economic, political, business and cultural circumstances. For this reason, we have developed a country-specific approach to assessing risk and creating strategies to improve our work in factories. These assessments include social, political and environmental data, along with risk indices and expert analysis. They also draw on the insights we have gathered through ongoing engagement with a variety of external stakeholders and business partners.

Designing country strategies

The challenges we encounter vary greatly by country
and often call for adjusting our approach to
fit local economic, political, business and
cultural circumstances.  

Bangladesh

In April 2013, one of the worst tragedies in the history of the global apparel industry took the lives of more than 1,100 garment workers at the Rana Plaza factory complex outside Dhaka, Bangladesh. The country’s garment industry encompasses some 5,000 factories, less than 70 of which are approved suppliers for Gap Inc. While we did not source any products from factories at Rana Plaza, we were deeply affected by this tragedy and, like others throughout the world, felt a sense of urgency in preventing such a devastating event from occurring again. 

Within months of the Rana Plaza collapse, we helped form the Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety (“Alliance”). The Alliance brings together a range of apparel companies and brands to make improvements to worker safety in Bangladesh, focusing on fire and building safety. Laying out binding commitments, the Alliance has funded and implemented a range of actions to create tangible change within specific time frames. It is also dedicated to measuring progress and openly communicating about results. 

One of the key tenets of the Alliance’s work is to engage workers in improving the garment industry in Bangladesh. It has conducted both surveys and off-site interviews with more than 3,200 Bangladeshi workers in 28 representative factories to obtain their input and perspective on fire and building safety issues. These insights have been used to develop better solutions and have been shared openly as a public resource.

Designing Country Strategies At A Glance

The Alliance for Bangladesh Worker Safety has trained more than 1.1 million workers on fire safety and expanded a helpline to over 400 factories.

Another important idea guiding the work of the Alliance is that creating lasting improvements requires a dual strategy. At the same time that it is addressing specific safety issues inside factories, the Alliance is also working to address the broader, complex issues that affect the safety and well-being of the country’s garment workers. These include inadequate regulations and enforcement, weak labor laws and a shortage of technical capabilities and experience.

The second Alliance Annual Report detailing progress was issued in September 2015. Key achievements and highlights from the Alliance’s first two years include: 

  • Inspecting 100 percent of factories that create products for member companies to assess structural, fire and electrical safety, with inspection reports published on the Alliance website
  • Training of more than 1.1 million workers in fire safety
  • Verifying ongoing remediation efforts at over 500 factories
  • Expanding the Alliance worker helpline (Amader Kotha) to more than 400 factories; since inception, the helpline has received more than 20,000 calls 
  • Providing financial compensation to over 6,000 workers who were displaced or unable to work due to factory inspections and closures for improvements
  • Making $100 million in low-cost financing available to factories and creating two credit facilities with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and USAID
  • Launching occupational safety and health committee pilot projects with ILO Better Work at factories

In the future, the Alliance will continue to work with governments, brands local trade associations, civil society and other stakeholders to build on the progress made to date. Most importantly, we are committed to helping to ensure that this work leads to lasting change for Bangladesh’s garment workers and industry.

Cambodia

To help improve labor practices and working conditions in Cambodia, we have made it a priority to encourage freedom of association for the country’s garment workers and support programs that engage workers and help to improve risks to their well-being.

The country’s eight major union federations and the Garment Manufacturers Association of Cambodia negotiated a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that tasked an independent Arbitration Council (AC) with reviewing and arbitrating labor disputes between workers and factory owners. We have actively supported the AC as a platform for peacefully resolving disputes between workers and suppliers. When unions have raised concerns about suppliers not complying with AC decisions, we have informed factory management of our expectation that they respect and follow any AC awards.

Gap Inc. and our suppliers also helped increase awareness among garment workers and employers about preventing and resolving labor disputes in Cambodia by supporting the AC’s radio learning program in 2014.

“The garment industry has been a key vehicle for economic growth, … attracting foreign investment and creating opportunities for many Cambodians to supplement their family incomes. Providing such opportunities, however, is only a half measure if laborers are subjected to poor conditions or are treated unfairly.”

- William E. Todd, U.S. Ambassador to the Kingdom of Cambodia

We have conducted training on preventing unauthorized subcontracting (UAS) with Better Factories Cambodia at all of our approved factories. Our field team provided a training update on UAS prevention to all factories in July 2014. We confirmed and resolved one UAS case where an unauthorized factory closed without making proper severance payments to workers. Following several months of negotiations with Gap Inc. and local labor groups, the alleged supplier provided settlement to the affected workers.

We also support and collaborate on a number of initiatives with the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia (BFC) program, which we helped form in 2001, including:

  • Training – We sponsor training programs on management systems, compensation and benefits to help prevent issues that affect workers’ rights and well-being from reoccurring.
  • Experts by Experience Initiative – We helped fund BFC's response to incidents of group fainting in Cambodia’s garment factories. The program: 1) develops mechanisms to hear workers’ perspectives and insights; 2) helps workers understand the issue; and 3) provides knowledge on prevention and appropriate responses. 
  • Food Provision Program – We support BFC's research on the impact of nutrition in the garment industry, with the goal of establishing scientific and empirical links between nutrition and productivity. 
  • One Change Campaign – We helped fund and strongly encouraged suppliers to participate in the campaign for factories to adopt one or more changes in management practices from BFC’s designated list.

We have also partnered with CARE International to implement the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program for advancing female garment workers in Cambodia since 2009.

Myanmar

In 2014, after careful deliberation, Gap Inc. became the first U.S. retailer to source apparel in Myanmar since sanctions were lifted by the U.S. government in 2012. Myanmar’s long period of economic isolation, early stage of development and minimal rule of law contribute to the country’s generally low level of labor practices and working conditions. We took extra measures to fully account for the challenging local circumstances and set a high standard that could help to improve the overall sustainability of Myanmar’s garment industry.

To understand the local context, we held meetings and engaged in dialogue with civil society and worker organizations in Myanmar, U.S. government agencies, the ILO and international NGOs with specialized expertise in Myanmar. These consultations helped us identify how human rights, regulatory and political issues affect workers and our business.

We implemented an annual risk assessment process to identify, evaluate and address risks at the country and industry levels on an ongoing basis. This process uses a combination of data, risk indices and expert analysis to assess and respond to changes in the country’s social, political and regulatory environments.

Country strategies in Myanmar

Partnering with factory management, workers and third-party experts led to substantial improvements in labor practices and working conditions at our suppliers’ factories in Myanmar.

We have collaborated closely with factory management, workers and third-party experts, including the ILO and Verité, to substantially improve labor practices and working conditions at the two factories in the country that currently supply our brands.  We also chose to voluntarily submit public reports on our sourcing activities under the U.S. government’s Responsible Investment Reporting Requirements.

While changes take time and we still have work to do, key improvements and initiatives at the two factories we work with in Myanmar include: 

  • Developed policies and procedures to address under-age hiring, lack of leave and inappropriate disciplinary practices
  • Reduced excessive overtime hours and corrected overtime wages
  • Partnered with the ILO and U.S. government to provide training on freedom of association and social dialogue to improve worker-management relations, dialogue and issue resolution
  • Provided remedy mechanisms for workers who were mistreated by supervisors
  • Implemented new grievance policies and procedures, including training on workplace conduct and grievance channels and an investigation process for addressing concerns
  • Implementing the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program in factory and community settings in Myanmar